Monday, December 27, 2010

All was calm...

all was bright! Christmas Eve is my thing, the whole day and night. It's all the magic and mood of Christmas- the wonderful food and good cheer, friends and family gathered around a table, the late-night service- that comes before the opening of gifts that for me makes the holiday. And this year was no different: great friends, a wild mushroom lasagna, green beans with caramelized shallots, and piping hot chocolate souffles.

This year also consisted of variations on familiar themes: poinsettias and pine cones and splashes of red. There is something about a lush red poinsettia that is undeniably "Christmas". I've pounced back and forth between white and red poinsettias, but the constant has been to use either a terra cotta pot and saucer or basket to conceal the plastic growers pot. This small, yet important, detail creates a more earthy, richer look than the flashy foil liners the plants come with. Also something that I try to do is to raise the plants so they don't get lost in the shuffle. My stacked Chinese boxes and a wooded 'chessman' stool from Bungalow 5 come in very handy for this purpose!

Another constant in the past several years has been carnations (I know, I know- I sound like a broken record!) and this year, what's come in really handy has been these terrific glass bud vases from Crate and Barrel:
The one I really love is the taller necked vase with the bulb base. These were perfect for small, festive arrangements of red carnations with a stem of Star of Bethlehem that mixed with my grandmother's Canton bowl filled with gilded and plain pine cones that created a nest for my faux red apple and berry sphere, or several Stars of Bethlehem stems and a cuff of galax leaves.

These can make a florist out of anyone! I have to say that I try to have at least a dozen of these handy at any one time for dining tables, side tables and for gift giving. A pair of small arrangements in these vases can make a very personal gift (the recycled Tiffany box is an extra touch!)

Monday, December 20, 2010

A Merry Red Christmas!

I'm sure Bing and Elvis would change from white and blue Christmases to red with this as their inspiration.

I think carnations are simply amazing! They last forever (if they are fresh and you remember to change the water, they can last a good two weeks), have a wonderful clove scent (which you can intensify by adding a few drops of clove oil in the conditioning water), and give a great pop of color. What else can you ask for in a fresh flower?

This is the counterpoint to the more whimsical white carnation arrangement in the candy cane vase from last week. This is a bit more dramatic with its mix of the deep burgundy and bright scarlet red flowers and the use of the black glass cylinder, but it still says Merry Christmas!

Again, I use boxwood cuttings as the matrix (this time, all green, not variegated as with the white arrangement) and also incorporate the mini variety (in the deeper red, all the wholesaler had!) but also added a shiny galax leaf cuff around the base of the arrangement to finish it off. Also added as a flourish is the stalk of a carnation spike, almost as a feather in the band of a hat. Sometimes you run across these when cleaning the flowers, and I definitely save them for this purpose.

These would look great in a team down a long dining table or by itself on a smaller table with candles as a centerpiece, or on a coffee table or end table. They mix well with traditional Christmas greenery and plants like red poinsettias and white hydrangea, and you can readily find them. The thing you have to remember is it always takes more flowers than you think! This arrangement has about 50 stems. By the way, if you're in Phoenix, you can stop by Stupid Cupid, voted Phoenix's best gift shop, and see this in person. This arrangement was made for the store. Cheers!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Ghosts of Christmas Past...

The first book about working with flowers that I bought was Ronaldo Maia's Decorating With Flowers, which was published in 1978. I bought it about 10 years after its publication, and while some of the ideas might seem out of favor at the moment, there is still a lot of inspiration to be had, and it is still a great source of ideas!

One of Ronaldo's ideas that has always struck me as charming is his candy cane vase arrangement. For my interpretation, I use white carnations, which are such great flowers to work with! I know, I know, Sex and the City's Charlotte HATED them ("They're filler flowers!" but Carrie LIKED them, "especially the pink ones"), but they can be quite spectacular when they are on their own, and NOT used as "filler flowers"! And for Christmas, I have two "go to" carnation arrangements that I love: the all white arrangement, which is in the candy cane vase, and the tonal red (cardinal and scarlet) arrangement in a more simple container (a black glass cylinder looks really slick, or use a silver vase for a more festive look).

Today it's about white and the candy canes. I had a lot of practice creating this arrangement... When I worked for Los Angeles custom florist, David Jones, I would make two of these each week that would be delivered to Harry Winston, Beverly Hills. For the jewelery store's arrangements, we used clear glass cubes, but it works equally well in this cylinder. David taught me that this technique uses more flowers than you think you need! In this vase there are about 50 stems altogether. The matrix of the arrangement is oregonia, which resembles boxwood, and then the flowers are worked in. Another touch that David taught me is to also use the mini variety in the arrangement, as well. The buds and smaller blossoms create texture and movement in the arrangement, and loosens it up a bit.

For the vase, again, more candy canes than you think are needed. This vase took about 70 canes! I used to make these by taking florist clay, which comes in a long ribbon, and creating 2 rings, an upper near the opening and a lower, near the base. This clay never dries, but does its job holding the canes. This last time I thought I'd use a glue gun (channeling my inner Martha!), but quickly found out that once water was inside the vase, it broke down the bond of the glue on the glass. Some of the canes loosened up... go figure! If you don't want to use the clay, or want something more permanent, use a glass cement made for adhering things to glass.

After the canes were attached, I tied a piece of red grosgrain ribbon around the cylinder and tied a simple knot.

For a different look, here's the same technique in an antique silver waste pot, which is from my grandmother's tea service. Also in this shot is another idea from Ronaldo, his galax wrapped votive candles. I love these and use them all the time on my table!

Monday, December 13, 2010


The whole process of setting up a home can be daunting. Whether you are remodeling or refurnishing a space you're already in, or moving into a entirely new space, it often is a good time to reflect on who you are as a family, and what story your home tells. I've written about New York Social Diary before, and recently, in their NYSD House section, there is an interview with New York designer Campion Platt, in his city apartment. In the interview, Platt discusses his process he undergoes with his clients and that, with the client, he first develops an overall story to tell. Once the client signs on to that story, he then can present a few options within the parameters of the story and say,  "If the story is this, then it follows that these are... two options (of x) that work in this space... I'm very pragmatic about it. I try to stay to that storyline so that the theme runs all the way through."

When asked the difference between 'story' and 'inspiration' his response was, "You have to have a story before you can become inspired." His approach is a cerebral one and that inspired the writing of a book, Made to Order, which delves into this approach in more depth.

Having a story. It's a large part of what makes a house a home. Often times, storylines aren't completely obvious, but people just seem naturally comfortable in spaces. This usually elicits questions about what they see or experience in the home, and gives the homeowner a chance to share a bit of themselves and their own history. That's what a home should be, a collection of stories that tell about you and your family.

When asked the story of his family's apartment, Platt said his wife wanted a white, downtown loft which he infused with a more "with it" vibe. Based on the photos, it looks like that story rings clear!
An oversized painting by artist Hunt Slonem hangs on a wall behind a Swarovski Crystal chandelier suspended from the dining room ceiling. A LED lighting system diffuses a soft purple hue across the dining space of the loft. The dining table and chairs are designed by Platt.

Friday, December 10, 2010

All Aglow

Many of the shelter magazines have a last page feature, and Elle Decor has its Etcetera page. In this month's magazine (Dec/Jan), the page features candlesticks, appropriately enough. Like many things, candlesticks can be very personal. Some people like a mix of materials and styles, and others keep to a more tightly curated collection. Among the candlesticks featured in in this editorial, one caught my eye, the Mandara candlestick from ABC Home. These are oversized turned, natural pine and are really beautiful (the black Del Mar beeswax tapers would look spectacular in them!). Their classic shape belies the rustic nature of them, and they come in different sizes from 12.5 inches to 26.5 inches tall. They'd look great as a pair, or grouped together on the table or sideboard, or mixed in among your other candlesticks and are priced extremely well. I love my brass sticks, don't get me wrong, but these might just be finding their way into the mix as well!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Let there be light...

Light. It's so important, especially at this time of year. The natural light is diminishing as days are becoming shorter. Family traditions and winter religious rituals call for a different quality of light. For me, there is no substitute for beeswax candles.

For my whole life, I can remember Del Mar candles in our home. There was a lovely store in my hometown, The General Store (don't let the name fool you- it was a pretty fancy store!), that carried these and that's where my mom purchased them. She had quite the collection of old brass candlesticks that needed to be filled that had been given to her by my grandmother. Ivory was the color of choice, but after a time, she began to mark the seasons with different colors: red for Christmas, blue for spring/summer, green for fall...My grandmother's collection always had black, which was such a great look!

Needless to say, I caught the brass candlestick bug. I keep a part of my collection on the Baker sideboard that I've written about before and have found no better candle than the Del Mar beeswax solid taper in ivory. The candlesticks are very old and have a beautiful glow to their finish- all I do is wipe them to shine them up. Every once in awhile, they do get a bit of a polishing, but I don't like them when they are too gleaming bright. Silver, yes, but brass, no! The sideboard also has my mom's creche on it for the holidays. It's the only one  I've known and was hers as a child. I love the peeling paint and the patina of over 80 Christmases of use on the figures ...

The General Store is no more, but living in West Hollywood for years I easily found a source for the candles. Then the move out to Phoenix... no luck. I tried other brands of beeswax candles, but they failed. Either the wick didn't light or it would be buried in wax after a lighting and then need to be dug out- not a good look. Then, success! I found the source, the Holy Grail of the Del Mar beeswax candles! The story of the Del Mar candle is as compelling as the product itself:

Ferdinand Knorr came to the United States in 1904 after fleeing from his native Poland and the Russian Czar. Tinkering in his machine shop and enjoying his hobby of beekeeping proved to be a successful combination. Fred produced an improved honeycomb for his bees and his famous candles soon followed ... candles that were drip-less, smokeless and had a gentle fragrance.

The candles were developed in 1928 and initially sold to gift shops and a local inn. The business has been operated by successive generations since 1950. Henry, Judy, and new owner Steve have made Knorr Candle Factory, which makes the Del Mar candles, a continuing success by using only the finest materials and holding on to traditional manufacturing methods. Knorr's high quality drip-less 100% beeswax candles with top notch wicks are a welcome addition to homes and are regarded truly as an art. They are the highest quality beeswax candle available.

The meticulous craftsmanship that goes into Knorr candles follows the industrious efforts of thousands of bees. 160,000 bees must travel 150,000 miles collecting nectar to produce 60 pounds of honey that yields only 1 pound of beeswax. Pure 100% beeswax candles burn at a rate of 1 to 1 1/2 inches per hour and should be arranged about 4 inches apart out of the way of drafts.

They are equally beautiful on the table and come in solid pillars as well as the tapers. They also sell sheets of wax and honeycomb candles as well as hollow tapers. But for me, the product to have is the solid taper for candlesticks and the pillar for hurricanes. They are expensive, but I truly believe they are something that is really worth their price.

There is nothing better than to bask in the glow of these beeswax candles. The gentle fragrance and the quality of light recall the great churches of Europe, but the good news is that they are made right here!

Monday, December 6, 2010

In the Christmas mood!

We had another wonderful class this past weekend! The rose variety we worked with was Vendela, a soft ivory rose. The students were eager, the roses plentiful, and the outcomes beautiful! This classic soft colored rose makes for a beautiful arrangement, classic and modern. But with some additions, it can become a very cheerful Christmas arrangement.

In the last photo, I mixed in some silver brunia, red hypericum (variety called Dolly Parton, go figure!) and ceder in a black cylinder.

The first cut is the deepest... A good clean cut on the base of a flower will help allow it to hydrate.
Establish your points! Setting compass points for your arrangement helps you know where you're going!
Room for just one more! The technique works every time!

It's a wrap! Literally, wrapping up the class...
 In the Christmas mood!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

House Beautiful, part 2

Newell Turner, the editor of House Beautiful, commented on my post from the other day. I wanted to comment back (naturally!), but what I wrote was too long to fit as a "comment".  So, it now becomes a post. If you haven't yet read the editor's letter, please do. I couldn't find a copy of it on the internet to re-post here. And please, don't get me wrong. As a longtime subscriber, I really do enjoy the magazine!


Thanks for writing. First, I'd be more than happy to post your editor's letter, if you'd be so kind as to send me a copy. I would welcome readers to compare my comments about your letter to your letter itself.

Second, after careful rereading, I take exception to contorting and misinterpreting your comments. All I did was merely interpret. We are always interpreting! I think we are also always looking for clarity and context, and perhaps some would be helpful.

I randomly looked through several back issues of HB from this year and noticed several of the fads you wrote about. In the October issue alone, the magazine highlighted a zebra rug in the 'Animalia' Rugs section ["We went wild for these captivating new designs from the animal kingdom."], several features with slip-covered sofas, and a Chinese garden stool in the "Bathroom of the Month". Not to mention that your magazine has had an "Everywhere We Look" section, which I looked forward to seeing, but now, I'm not so sure...

Also in the October issue there was a book excerpt from Rebecca Moses' A Life of Style that had the tag: It's about confidence: listen to yourself and follow your instincts. In this feature, there are some "Style Constants" among which are: ‘Exotica... symbols of a well-traveled life’ (could this include zebra rugs and Chinese garden stools?), ‘Mirror, mirror on the wall...Think gilded, grand, and gorgeous!’ (might not some think their gold sunburst mirror fits this category, not to mention its association with Louis  XIV which is another style constant ‘King Louis Anything’?) All this is a long-winded way of saying: Might these be classic elements and not fads? I am reminded of the Yves St. Laurent quote, "Fashions fade, style is eternal," and these elements have been with us for centuries.

(I also know that he said, "It pains me physically to see a woman victimized, rendered pathetic, by fashion,” and this maybe the point you were trying to make (to a degree) , if you substitute "room" for "woman". But then I have to wonder about the upcoming trends for 2011... Do trends live longer?)

If these are "overused", then it should make sense to stop featuring them. If they are being used "in the wrong way", then instruct how to use them in the correct way. But don't chide us for adopting what we see in your magazine.

Lastly, I don't think that I handed out any wild accusations (heavy use of sarcasm: guilty!). I did say that it appears that HB, as a magazine, isn't a request for feedback, or seeking a relationship with its readers nor does it encourage community, all things that I still believe based on the fact there is no forum in the magazine for readers’ comments. I also said that there was subtle mocking and a bit of ridicule in your letter, again, which I believe, there is. We, as readers and consumers of your magazine, were inspired by your editorials and bought products featured in them only to find out in your letter that these elements are now "tired". Feeling a bit set-up, while unintended, seems only natural.

I feel like I'm rehashing, and for that I apologize. So here's an invitation: Even though you said it's not easy or likely to engage a conversation, let's do it anyway. Who knows, we might learn something about each other’s perspectives. And I promise I will leave out the sarcasm!

Best regards,
Bob Beukema

Monday, November 22, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving...

It's almost here, my favorite holiday! People are sometimes surprised that this is the day I look forward to most of all. Not my birthday, or the 4th of July, or even Christmas (though Christmas Eve Day is a close second!) I love that there are no expectations other than to enjoy seriously good food and relax with good company. I also love all the trappings of tradition that come with Thanksgiving. It's funny, for as unconventional as I may be on the surface, just under the exterior I am a very traditional guy...

My family comes from good, old-fashioned mid-western stock, and our family Thanksgivings were never too adventuresome. We had the usual suspects: turkey stuffed with bread stuffing and roasted, mashed potatoes, gravy, squash, cranberry sauce, green beans (though I remember peas pinch-hitting every once and awhile) creamed onions (my personal favorite- hot, cold any way I can get them, they're amazing!) rolls, and pumpkin pie. But it was all done perfectly, first by my grandmother, and then by my mother.

Both women were great cooks, but nodding to the times, they did pick up some shortcuts along the way (there were plenty of Thanksgivings and Christmases with canned cranberries- the sauce, not the jelly!), but things were brought full circle, and "scratch" came back to being the norm fairly early on in my childhood. One thing I do remember that, at our house, came out at Christmas time was the Johnson Brothers "Wild Turkey" platter (we virtually had the same meal on Christmas, but at our house, not my grandparents) that my grandmother gave my mom in 1951, the first year my parents were married. Eventually, my mom started to take over the cooking of both meals after it became too much for my grandmother. When this happened, the platter lived on the end of our dining table for the month between these two holidays as my mom's autumnal decoration!

Fast forward to me as an adult settling my first home with my partner and beginning our own traditions. I discovered that this pattern was also tableware AND available on ebay! I was hooked. I quickly amassed a collection of 12 dinner plates which make their dinner party debut every year in the fall and stay out until the start of Advent. Sometimes I think that I'm the only one I know with Thanksgiving dishes... ("Oh, you have Christmas plates?!") To that point, my mom had a severe addiction to Spode's Christmas Tree dishes that was finally satisfied when my brother and sister-in-law gave her a full set (almost every piece imaginable!) as gifts over several years.

But it really is about the food, and the preparation of it. I was the bread plucker, and a week ahead, I had to do my duty for the stuffing! On the morning of the roasting of the turkey, my mom was up early to stuff and truss the bird, and set in motion the rest of the cooking that lasted all that day. One key memory was, after she sauted the onions, celery and seasoning for the stuffing, she scrambled eggs for breakfast in the same pan! Those were some amazing eggs! The love that went into that meal was fully realized by all of us. My mother truly loved everything about the Thanksgiving meal, and in her honor, we served it at her memorial. It was a natural and delicious tribute to her!

Further fast forward to our first Thanksgiving hosting my dad, his new wife, my sister and her children for the first time in our new home. As a house warming gift, my sister brought "the turkey platter" and now my dishes have been united with their inspiration. My next addition to the set are dessert plates in a coordinating pattern, "Harvest", also by Johnson Brothers. It has the same brown transfer pattern and scallop around the edge, but with brilliantly colorful fruit in the center, rather than a flying turkey (there's something strange about eating dessert on a plate with a turkey on it...). I picked up a dinner plate in this pattern in an auction lot of the "Wild Turkey" plates. Unfortunately, these plates in this size are few and far between on the auction circuit...

Oh, well. Here's to happy hunting and a Happy Thanksgiving!

House Beautiful

Here is the letter I wrote to House Beautiful magazine. I emailed this with the subject line: 'Ouch! Did anybody else feel that?' When I was looking where to send the letter, I realized that HB doesn't have a Letters to the Editor section in their magazine! They seem not to be a request for feedback, or seek a relationship with their readers or encourage community... So, I sent my letter off to "Reader Services". Let me know your thoughts!

Dear Reader Services:

So, I am finally sitting down to enjoy my December/January HB... When, low and behold, I get to Editor Newell Turner's page! Now, I have never meet the man, but I did follow the renovation of his country home (heck, I even blogged about it:, and he seems like a nice enough guy... But now, I don't know! Yeah, I chuckled about the fashion foibles he mentioned (we all have VERY scary pictures of ourselves!), and I agree: one has to learn and laugh. But then there came the subtle mocking of some very popular design elements: Chinese garden stools, zebra rugs, sunburst mirrors, and slipcovers (really?!?). Hm... where did we see these things, let me think... I know! It was in issue after issue of HB magazine! Why, there was even a section called "Everywhere We Look"! Had the readers only known they were being set up, I don't think they would have embraced these "trends" turned "fads" or the magazine so fully.

The big difference between an unfortunate pair of bell bottoms or a velour pullover is that they probably didn't set the buyer back too much. But home furnishings are expensive propositions, and ones not undertaken lightly. I can only speak for myself, but I think of my furnishings as investments. I look for inspiration (yes, from fickle design magazines!), I make sure I really like what I want to purchase, and then buy the best I can afford of what I want. With mild tweaking, the stuff has got to last!

I know I am fairly secure in my taste, and in what I like, even my zebra stenciled cowhide rugs (I couldn't do the real McCoy's, it is something about the heads! But mine ARE lined and framed in felt... Did you just exhale in an exhausted sort of way?!) - two of them mind you, overlapping and layered on sisal ("... everywhere we look, sisal..." - and said not with excitement, but with exhaustion). Now, I don't have a sunburst mirror, but I DO have a large Syroco sunburst clock that belonged to my parents that hangs over their Baker sideboard that I also now have. In fact, I have the whole dining set that I grew up with: the Baker Finn Juhl table and the Michael Taylor knock-off chairs! It's actually really cool living with so many elements from my own childhood.

I also know that these "fads" have roots that go deep into the history of design. We're not talking painted wall graphics or carpeting on walls here. Some might even call these "fads" timeless. So to say that these things are elements to mock, or roll eyes at, or talk about  "... not with excitement, but with exhaustion", smarts a little. On the last page of the magazine, Alexa Hampton is looking forward to animal print velvets (tiger-stripe silk velvet: check!), but this is a trend alert for 2011?!  And Suzanne Rheinstein is excited about paint in off-beat colors? Sybil Connolly notwithstanding, I think we're getting ready here for another set up!! And lastly, in Windsor Smith's editorial, there are white slipped-covered sofas and an ottoman (... everywhere we look, ottomans as coffee tables...) with a slipcover!  Now, there was a bit of back peddling on Newell's part. He said that, in and of themselves, these elements were "not big mistakes" and do "have a valid, happy places in design" and I thought, "Okay, he's going to redeem himself in the final sentences!" Then came the comeuppance: "... it's just that they got overused or used in the wrong way"  and if we follow the advice on the following pages, we won't be "gullible victims... but a part of the fascinating evolution of design"!

I'm guessing Windsor used the slipcover in the right way? I wonder what the wrong way of slipcovering looks like... Children? Pets? Yes, that seems a little wrong... Overused? Really?! Maybe the reason why is because we saw editorial after editorial of these things in your magazine. We subscribe, we read, we're inspired, we save, we shop and finally purchase... and now, apparently, we get a little bit of ridicule- from the editor of the magazine! I wonder if Oly is aware of what was written on the facing page of their ad? They aren't rugs, but they are zebra pillows!! Did they feel it, too? Hm... Gullible victims? I am stunned! So now the readers of HB are gullible victims?!

A design magazine should help readers revamp and reuse their investments. Not everyone is in a position to start from scratch, not to mention that starting from scratch isn't a very "green" way to decorate. I would try a little more inspiration rather than ridicule in the coming issues...

Just some random ramblings from a longtime reader,
Robert Beukema

Sunday, November 21, 2010

A great class!

What a fun time on Saturday! We worked with a great rose (Geraldine) and learned the step-by-step of conditioning and arranging 25 roses. This arrangement is perfect for a cocktail table, side table, OR the dining table (mais bien sur!) and has many different applications. Truly a versatile technique! Thanks to the ladies who participated, you were wonderful to teach! Here are the highlights:

       As Julie Andrews sang, "Let's start at the very beginning..." 
       Rose 101: It's the best place to start!

                                           Stripped and ready for action!

                             Exhale... (And yet ANOTHER use for the AJ's bag!)


                     Cardinal directions: always helpful for finding your way home!

                                           Bull's eye!

                                           The home stretch...


                                          Wrapping things up, literally!

                                                     Et voila!

If you (or someone you know who may be interested!) are in the Phoenix area on December 4, there is another class being offered, just in time for holiday entertaining or gifting.

During this two-hour class, as shown above, you will learn how to clean, trim, and condition 25 premium-grade roses to maximize their vase life. Then I will teach you how to arrange these roses in a foolproof method that works every time! You'll take away with you a graphic rose arrangement - that YOU created - in a versatile glass cylinder, boxed and wrapped for easy travel or gift giving. You will also receive a florist knife, and the knowledge to re-create this arrangement whenever you wish - complete with "how-to" instructions! Arrangements of this quality sell for over $120 at local florists.

And the investment you'll make to attend my class? $125.

Working with your hands to create something beautiful is perfect for:

  • A mental health day
  • A mother-daughter day
  • A day out with the gals - or guys!
I'm also happy to hold custom classes on other days for specific occasions, such as:
  • A birthday party 
  • A bachelorette party
  • A corporate team building event
I love what I do and I'd love to share it with you. To register or for questions:

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

All that, and a vase to boot!

I must admit that I have a slight fixation with bottles. I love antique ones and modern ones, bottles made into glassware (if myself in 1980 could hear myself in 2010 say that, I'd slap me!), and of course bottles used for vases. My only defense is that I grew up in Los Angeles in an era when it was considered both chic and quaint for a cafe to have an small Perrier bottle with a bloom in it on the table. Of course now, you can get bottles from retailers like Crate and Barrel that have a great shape and hold a single bloom, but I still love the re-purposed bottle! Which brings me to the point of this blog: Hendrick's Gin.

I first had a Hendrick's cocktail at a great restaurant near me, St. Francis, that serves seasonal tipples using Hendrick's Gin (Boots mixes a mean drink!). If you are still in the dark, Hendrick's is distilled in ridiculously small batches in Scotland using cucumber and rose petals, and was declared "The Best Gin in the World" by the Wall Street Journal in 2003. It also comes in a great bottle! The shape is perfect: tall, with a small neck, and the black glass is subtle, yet dramatic- perfect for a few colorful blooms...

An added bit of polish is to use some greenery, especially around the neck, in a simple arrangement like this. I really love galax leaves, which you can usually get from a florist (P.S. they last almost forever in a plastic bag in your fridge, as well!). The height of this arrangement would make for an awkward centerpiece (it would look great, though, on a side table or entry table...), but this could easily be adapted by shortening the stems.

Now, all you have to do is mix some cocktails and presto! You have a vase! Sometimes inspiration can come down the liquor isle of your grocery store...

Sunday, November 14, 2010

In a nautilus shell...

Sometimes an unexpected container can be the perfect thing for flowers! I thought I'd give a peek at one of the shell arrangements from the shoot. I've had these nautilus shells for awhile. They look great empty in a grouping, and now I can say I love them with flowers, too. Now I need to find a welder to create a great base for these... the acrylic ones work, but I think I can do better. After an exhaustive Google search, I came up with nadda, so it looks like I need to find someone local who can create a twisted bronze tripod to support these guys.

You can see the whole in the middle awaiting my creative hydrangea solution... Also peaking out in the photo are these small malachite boxes that I use for salt cellars, which remind me of the late Tony Duquette, especially teamed with with the orchids in the shells. Mr. Duquette was a legendary creative tour de force, especially in and around Hollywood. It was always great to run into people in town that remembered his parties... and boy, did he know how to throw a party!  Jim Thompson  is working with Duquette's design partner Hutton Wilkinson and has issued the Tony Duquette Collection of fabrics, including this malachite fabric below, called Gemstone. Amazing... to quote Mr. Duquette, "More is more!"

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Hydrangea happens...

I love hydrangeas. There is nothing better than these big moppy blooms in a bowl or vase. They are seductively simple by themselves, or dramatic teamed with other garden flowers or orchids. They are also a little finicky. I heard someone compare them to children in a family: "Some turn out, some don't!" meaning that while you prep a bunch exactly the same way for an arrangement, some will make it, and others may wilt before your eyes! I've learned that you need more stems than you think, just in case you end up with a 'black sheep', or two in the family bunch! The photograph shows a sample table centerpiece I did where I teamed these beautiful white hydrangea with yellow oncidium orchids and 2 satellite arrangements of yellow and white roses- talk about WOW!

This weekend past, I was preparing for a photo shoot for my website that's being built, and I thought, "Aha! I'll use hydrangeas as the centerpiece!" I called and reserved 10 stems of an "antique green" variety to use in my grandmother's blue Canton bowl. This variety is a very pale green and has a slight blush to it with a bit of mottling on the petals that I really like. In the blue and white Chinese bowl, they'd be perfect! In addition, I picked up  2 stems of green cymbidium orchids for a pair of nautilus shells I've been meaning to try out as vases. These would look great teamed with the delicate green hydrangeas!

The hydrangeas were huge and fresh, but in the end, too huge! When I filled the bowl and placed it on the table, there was literally no room for the rest of the table setting. "Hmm... the photographer is coming in two hours and my grand plan is not working out!" I'd by then cut the stems short, so my options had become very limited. I had already filled the shells with the orchids, and they looked great, but I had this hole in the middle of the table to fill. I grabbed a vase of roses I had on the coffee table ("Very pretty, but not quite right with everything else planned!"). Then I went hunting!

I have a great collection of antique Canton ginger jars, but there was no way if I used these that the short stems would make it in water... Then I remembered "water picks!" and these became my lifeline! Water picks are the little test tubes that have a space in the bottom for attaching a longer stem so they can be as long as you need them to be! I filled the tubes with water, re-cut the stems and placed them into the tubes! I then dug in the trash for the rose stems I had trimmed off the coffee table arrangement and fit these into the bottoms and voila! I replaced the short stems with long!

The ginger jar held only five of the blooms. Luckily I have several of them, so the stems I couldn't use wouldn't go to waste. Suddenly, it all came together and not a moment too soon. As I just finished cleaning up the mess, the doorbell rang. Terry, the photographer had arrived! It just goes to show you that "hydrangea happens!"

The P.S. in this tale is that this variety dries beautifully without loosing their color or drooping. I now have 3 arrangements in my beautiful ginger jars, 1 on my dining table, 1 on the desk in the living room and the last in the kitchen. These will last in this 'limbo time' before the Christmas holiday extravaganzas begin! So remember, when life gives you "hydrangea" make dried arrangements!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Holiday Help!

If you are or will be in Phoenix on either November 20, or December 4, I am holding more floral design classes! This busy time of year when you want to entertain in your home is upon us, and this class will teach you to create - and then recreate - a beautiful rose arrangement at a fraction of what a florist would charge.

The rose arrangement in the photograph is the subject of these classes, and is perfect for a centerpiece on your dining table or on your coffee or side table. It can also be a great hostess/host gift or Christmas gift. The arrangement is modern yet traditional, and the technique is very versatile - change the color of the roses, maybe mix two shades of roses (a deep crimson rose combined with a bright scarlet variety creates a breathtaking Christmas look), or change the container - the sky's the limit!

During this two-hour class, you will learn how to clean, trim, and condition 25 premium-grade roses to maximize their vase life. Then I will teach you how to arrange these roses in a foolproof method that works every time! You'll take away with you a graphic rose arrangement - that YOU created - in a versatile glass cylinder, boxed and wrapped for easy travel or gift giving. You will also receive a florist knife, and the knowledge to re-create this arrangement whenever you wish - complete with "how-to" instructions. Arrangements of this quality commonly sell for over $120 at local florists.

And the investment you'll make to attend my class is only $125.

Working with your hands to create something beautiful is perfect for:
  • A mental health day
  • A mother-daughter day
  • A day out with the gals - or guys!
I'm also happy to hold custom classes on other days for specific occasions, such as:
  • A birthday party 
  • A bachelorette party
  • A corporate team building event
The bottom line is that I love what I do and I'd love to share it with you.
To register or for questions:

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Sunday Dinner

I love this painting. Not for the reasons that others do- or don't, for that matter, art is tricky that way- but because it reminds me of my grandparents. It's titled Freedom From Want by Norman Rockwell, and was a piece that became a Saturday Evening Post cover in March of 1943. This was one of the five "Freedom" covers he did during 1943.

In the 70's, my parents had given my grandparents an over-sized book of all of Rockwell's Post covers for Christmas which they kept on an early 19th century American mahogany drop-leaf table (salvaged and brought back to life by my grandmother- with the help of a furniture re-finisher!). This table and book occupied a key place in their living room. Every holiday, they would open it up to an appropriate page to reflect the day. This was the Thanksgiving page. Growing up, I only had one set of grandparents. We never had to run to another dinner on the major holidays like so many families have to do today. I also feel fortunate that they moved out to California just after I was born and lived within an easy drive, so we spent a lot of time with them.

Freedom from want... it seems so simple, yet almost unattainable today.  It seems like we all want so much- we can never be satisfied. We are almost born pre-programed to desire stuff, that we can never just "be". There is always a new project or purchase around the corner and then we can have people over or perhaps feel relaxed being in our home. Contrast today with when my parents grew up, first living through the Depression and then the War- it's hard to imagine.  But I heard the stories they and my grandparents told and retold during these family dinners.

Both of my parents were more fortunate than others during the Depression. The grandfather that I knew was a dentist having worked hard to get himself from the wrong side of the tracks as a kid to the right side as an adult. He often told stories about the creative ways some of his patients paid their dental bills. Butchers paid with meat, an artist patient, Mathias Alten,  paid with his oil paintings. It was the first I heard of adults doing what my friends and I always did, barter.

But the War was different. That affected everyone. Everything was rationed and everyone did their part in saving and conserving because it was the right thing to do. 'Want' and 'need' were well defined then. I heard those stories and more at every gathering, and grew to look forward to the retelling and sharing of how things were. I also learned my family's history and grew to love the treasures in my grandparents' home that told this history.

That's what meals around the table can do- Sundays, holidays, or otherwise. It can pass down a family's story and hopefully instill a sense of belonging and purpose. I can't say this will give families freedom from want, but it's so important for families to realize they have a history- a story to tell. It's not always a happy tale, but a family's history can give context and can help members clarify what really is important.

The table upon which the Rockwell book was kept, I found out early on, was my grandparents' breakfast table back home in Michigan all the while my dad grew up. I now have the table in my entry way. In my dining room is one of my grandparents' Mathias Alten paintings. And the stories live on.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Only connect!

We all seem to be addicted to lists. In/out, do/don't, cool/uncool, hot/not- we seem to crave information that validates who we are or what we do or helps us avoid those things that may make us look foolish in the eyes of others.

Splashed across the cover of this month's House Beautiful is a tantalizing: 101 Party Do's & Don'ts. Wow, I'm in! And there in the magazine beautifully laid out are indeed 101 tips from designers, taste-makers, and personalities.

What I love about how this piece was put together was that the editor seemed to be in on the irony of asking so many people the same question. Very often, in numeric sequence, just as one of the glitterati definitively states what he/she ALWAYS does, there is another expert saying the exact opposite (only serve white liquors/never only white liquors, give ideas about how to dress/don't impose a dress code, furniture scattered around the perimeter of a room/don't rearrange the furniture around the perimeter...) It really all boils down to what resonates with YOU and what you are comfortable with. Some tips that I tucked away are:

#31 Serve takeout on your finest china. Kelly Wearstler

#34 Don't be afraid to throw a party because it will cost too much. You can have a good time for $10 with a bottle of wine and a bag of nuts. Thomas Jayne

#43 Make a home-cooked meal, even if it's just as bowl of chili and a salad with garlic bread. Lisa Fine (see Sunday Dinner)

#52 Don't take yourself too seriously. Anything goes these days with your table decor and menu, so have fun. Tobi Fairley

#80 Don't run low on the hooch! David Jimenez

#84 Keep cocktail nuts and a stocked bar so you're always prepared for last-minute guests. Heather Clawson 

Of course, there were other notable ideas as well, and everyone was trying to help and encourage others, and that's the key: Whatever you do, just do- invite some neighbors you just met over (shout out to the 4 A's!) or friends you haven't seen in awhile... The important thing, to paraphrase E.M. Forster in Howard's End, is to "only connect!"

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Sunday Dinner

Growing up, my mom handled the dinners during the week, but on the weekends, if my dad was in town, he was usually in charge of the cooking. Sunday meals had a tendency to alternate between a vat of his chili or his chop suey (no, we never called it stir fry, and yes, we had a burnt orange electric wok!).

Trying new recipes is great, and I'm all for it, but it can be an endless parade of one-hit culinary wonders. Finding a rhythm in menu planning and providing meals that family and friends can look forward to isn't boring or monotonous; if the meal is good, it creates tradition and memories. And it makes it a heck of a lot easier to plan a family meal knowing you have a few constants in your corner.

So, try a few chili recipes- zero in on one that works for you and you have an instant hit on your hands. Plus, it feeds a crowd, so you could always invite friends over to join. Add homemade corn bread (so easy to make with corn meal, don't do the "box mix"), chopped onions, grated cheese, some sour cream, and maybe a simple salad and you'll have quite the crowd pleaser, and a new Sunday night tradition!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Fall has flung!

Okay, in some parts of the country we just have to try a little harder. I love the change of seasons, but don't live in a region that sees these changes too readily. Of course the light is different now and that usually is the indication that a transition is happening, but the temperature outside can stay steady well into December.

It can be tricky getting into the spirit of this time of year, so what helps me is to be a little proactive. Flowers can be a start. This arrangement is a variation on a theme that I can do at any time of year.

For the fall, I like these rust Estelle roses (much more vibrant of a color than the Terra Cotta or over-bred Leonidas roses) and team them with Super Green roses. Usually I use tonal colors in this arrangement, but there is something about the contrast here that works. To help blend things out and add texture, I use cream Lisianthus and Leucadenron pods. And to top things off, several brown cymbidium orchid blooms. Now, even though there isn't a hint of chill in the air, I can say with certainty, "Fall has flung!"

Of course, heralding this season can be done in a variety of ways from seasonal fruit (think pomegranates in your favorite bowl) to all variations of pumpkins that are available today. What is important is that we mark these changes. Our minds need the cycle of seasons. So, clip some branches, gather some roses, or buy some fruit. It will do your soul some good.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Sunday Dinner

A scene Norman Rockwell remembered to paint... What a surprise to open the New York Times this morning and see their Sunday magazine devoted to the premise Eating Together and that the food revolution is actually a story about savoring community, or as the author Christine Muhlke shorthanded in the The Way We Live Now column, "comm". It's as if they've been ghost-following Guy Meets Tabletop... hmmm!

There is an interview with environmental activist Laurie David , who has written a new book The Family Dinner: Great Ways to Connect With Your Kids One Meal at a Time. In the brief question and answer by Deborah Solomon, Ms. David says that while raising two teenage girls is unbelievably challenging, she still makes time for family dinners. She makes the distinction that while she makes dinner, she's not a short-order cook. She makes dinner for the family, not individuals and that her kids eat what she eats. As for dealing with technology at the table, if she sees a cellphone, she takes it. They have to hand the phone to her. I have to say, I love a set of rules. This is why I've focused my effort and attention on the dining room. This is the room where community (comm!) is built.

When asked about whether this may be a class issue (Ms. David is the ex-wife of Larry David of HBO's Curb Your Enthusiasm, and has an organic farm on Martha's Vineyard) she disagrees. Family dinners can be had with takeout, or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. The conversation at the table is just as important as the food.

Her book is, as Ms. Solomon suggests, a cross between a cookbook and a parenting manifesto. The book comes out November 3 and is on pre-order from Amazon.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Rose 101

While lots of things can constitute a centerpiece for a table, sometimes you do want to have flowers. The teacher in me thought to share the knowledge that I've gained over the years, and on Saturday, I held my first 'Rose 101' class.

Roses are perfect for an arrangement like this because they come 25 stems in a growers bunch, and that's all you need to complete this arrangement. Plus, many florists will sell growers bunches of roses for a lot less than retail because they don't have to do anything to them other than keep them in water and refrigeration in advance of selling them.

Kate, Brenda, and Michelle were gracious enough to do the test drive with me on this inaugural class, and through demonstration and practical application, they learned how to trim, condition (so important), how to handle a florist knife (or not...) and arrange the 25 stems in a clear vase with water. The final picture speaks for itself; success was had by all! A class schedule is coming this week... get your calendars out!